Extreme Adventures With Kids

This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Corey Gardner, a Family Practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

Coming over a coral ridge, I saw everyone staring down at a rock.  That’s odd, I thought, what’s so fascinating?  Then I noticed a flicker of movement and a beady little eye peering at me.  The rock began to move and transformed into a giant sea turtle, complete with barnacles on his back.  He paddled past me and with one more glance back, disappeared into the blue.

This took place about 50 feet below the Caribbean Sea, one of many adventures I had since earning SCUBA certification.  The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) has courses for kids too, as young as eight years, in a class called Bubblemaker.  This is a safe and fun way for kids to learn diving, and paves the way to certification.  Ask about courses at your local dive shop.

But isn’t diving expensive and dangerous?  Well, there are front-end costs for courses, gear rental, and family vacations to diving spots.  However, certification is for life. Imagine the opportunities for your children to appreciate a natural world few get to see. And kids learn important lessons about conservation and responsibility.  You may also consider the less expensive alternative- snorkeling.

As for danger, SCUBA and snorkeling are far less risky than many things Louisiana kids do, like riding ATVs, motorcycles, or jet-skis.  Far more kids are injured on these vehicles than SCUBA.  SCUBA has the advantage of stringent classes that thoroughly drill safety and responsibility.  And while anyone can zip around on ATVs or boats without proper training or safety gear, it’s hard to find a dive crew that’ll take you out without PADI certification and proper equipment.

So if you’re looking for another way to get your kids away from their phones and video games and into the great outdoors, consider SCUBA.  You can have shared adventures and create some science enthusiasts in your kids.  They’ll see exotic animals and plants in another world, and you’ll have life-time family memories.  I’ve had the privilege of watching an octopus steal a Go-Pro, nurse sharks sleeping in their coves, and an eight-foot Moray eel eat a lionfish.  What will your child find under the waves?

Another time, I was jogging on my usual nature trail when POOF!  There was a tiny deer, a Bambi-incarnate, standing by the path munching grass.  He was maybe three feet tall, and not startled as I pulled up short. Soon he was joined by a second Bambi impersonator.  The three of us had a moment as I got my phone out and snapped a picture.  Then I took off to finish my run. The deer, less rushed than I, continued their lunch.

I share this story to maybe peak your children’s interest in the great outdoors. There’s many ways to get your kids outside, away from phones and video games, besides the SCUBA and snorkeling we discussed above.  One of the great joys of these sports is seeing exotic sea creatures like turtles, tropical fish, octopi, and rays.  But there’s also lots of animals on dry land , and kids love seeing animals in the wild.

Louisiana is a wonderful place to start your kid’s hiking career.There’s dozens of trails, long and short, throughout the state.  And with the heat soon to break, it’s a great time to get out there.  You can catch a family of raccoons scurrying up a tree, or spot a lone gator floating at Lake Martin.

Kids enjoying the outdoors not only makes them nature and conservation enthusiasts, but also helps fight the epidemic of childhood inactivity, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.  The Japanese call hiking “forest bathing,” and the science is clear that hiking in the woods improves blood pressure, decreases stress hormone production, and improves overall well-being.

Hiking is also a family activity, so parents reap these benefits as well. You can start close by in a local park.  If you want more elevation and beautiful views, venture out to Tunica Hills or the Kisatchie National Forest.  For the really big animals and spectacular vistas, there’s always parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, to name just a few.  So get out there and have an adventure with your kids!  They could use one, and so could you.

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